What NOT to do in writing dialog

Most of us have a conversation with at least one person in a days time, so you’d think that writing dialog would be easy.  You’d think, but you’d be wrong.  There are a couple of no-nos when it comes to scripting out a conversation.  To go against these no-nos would reveal yourself to be a complete noob (and nobody wants to be seen as a noob!)

  • Characters calling each other by name… over and over again.

When authors do this, it’s quite painful to read.  Other than addressing someone in a crowd or when angry, we most often do not call others by their names.  Think about it for a moment the next time you are talking to someone.  When it’s just you and Bill in the room, do you say, “what do you think of my spicy guacamole, Bill?”, or do you say, “what do you think of my spicy guacamole?”

If you’re right next to the guy, calling him by his name just seems… awkward.  Don’t do this.  Stop it, right now!

  • Telling and not showing

Another issue new (and some seasoned) writers seem to have is adding accessive dialog ‘tags’.  What this means is descriptives on the word ‘said’.  For example:

“I don’t want to eat this refuse!” Kyle said angrily.

Did you spot it?  It’s the pairing of ‘angrily’ with ‘said’.  We should be able to tell their mood by what they said.  If we can’t, show us with more action.  Don’t tell us what they are thinking, show us.

  • Characters explaining how they feel in an awkward way.

I’m just going to say that your characters should speak in the same manner as you do in everyday situations.  To explain too much is just weird.  Take this sentence:

“I don’t like that you do that because Chaz, my ex husband, who was abusive and liked to use down-talk, would speak to me in that same way.”

We don’t want the backstory in the dialog.  This is something that should be detailed earlier or discovered as the story goes on.

  • Using the same word over and over again

This should be a no-brainer in your manuscript.  Don’t repeat one or a couple of words over and over again.

“This pizza sure is good,” Sarah said while smacking her lips.

“What sort of pizza is it?” Pete asked.

Sarah glanced over to the empty box still on the counter.  “This a pepperoni pizza.”

Yuck.  Almost along the same lines as the name thing, mentioned above.

Things to remember

Your story should have ties to real life, no matter how fictitious it is.  Dialog should be one of those ties.  Read it out loud or to a friend if you aren’t sure.  It should flow and it should sound like an everyday conversation.

Follow these tips and your dialog will sound more like a seasoned writer than a newbie.  🙂


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